Rugby League

License article

The two really crazy things about rugby league in Australia right now

Show comments

It's a blessing when you can view the familiar as if for the first time, your home as if a visitor, the normal as if it's exotic and strange.

Your correspondent has just written a book that is pretty much about auditing one's own hobbies, interests and obsessions and an unexpected by-product of thinking in this way is that since returning to Sydney for round two, I'd like to think I've looked at the NRL from an outsider's perspective.

The introduction of a 24-hour rugby league TV station just underlines how bizarre the competition has become – and although it's a boon for fans, perhaps it's made it more self-absorbed.

There are two really crazy things about rugby league in Australia right now.

The first is this: there are eight games every weekend and yet we are obsessed with who will be playing for who next year.

And when next year comes around, we won't be paying much attention to them actually playing for their new clubs – because we'll be talking about who'll be playing for who the following year!


What a prescient idea it was to title one of the increasing number of rugby league podcasts "Market Watch". The market sometimes seems to have more watchers than the actual games.

Because I don't have a favourite NRL club, I don't care who's joining who next year – and this speculation is the fuel that drives the engine of media coverage in 2017. Having reliable information in this area is increasingly like possessing gold dust, it's one of the few things in traditional media that gets the cash registers clinking.

The second barmy thing is State of Origin selection speculation.

You would not know there is a representative weekend a fortnight from now. You wouldn't know this is a World Cup year and that it will be in Australia. As soon as a ball was kicked in March, speculation on the make-up of the NSW and Queensland sides was rampant.

Once more we are looking over not one hill, but several. This column has already lamented the fact rugby league runs two competing competitions each year with the same players.

But it was once a good argument that Origin was more compelling than Tests because it was more competitive. But now? New Zealand seem more capable of winning series involving Australia than the Blues are of beating the Maroons. They've done so more often in the last nine years.

The fact that Origin is such a focus merely underlines how parochial, geographically limited and inward looking rugby league in Australia remains as we head toward the third decade of this century.

The biff is gone, the playing population is changing rapidly and the eligibility rules have been tightened up. Huge swathes of NRL players are ineligible for NSW and Queensland.

The fact that Origin is such a focus merely underlines how parochial, geographically limited and inward-looking rugby league in Australia remains as we head towards the third decade of this century.

One more thing. In the short time he has been out of first grade coaching Ivan Cleary says "more speculation" is the biggest thing that has changed.

It's true.

For most of my career, the aim in a news story was to have a quote in the third paragraph. That has changed for two major reasons: one, you can't just get a player on the phone when you feel like it anymore.

And two, a story with a quote is easy to "lift" by a rival. On the other hand, if you hang an unsourced story on a byline or a reporter's name, the reader or viewer has to keep coming to your website, station or channel.

Commercially, it is actually in a media outlet's interests not to quote people or confirm rumours because they lose control of their content as soon as they do.

The personal relationships between the media professionals and coaches, players and officials have eroded to such an extent that a reporter is far more willing to call for a coach to be sacked or a player to be dropped than before. He's got nothing to lose, the coach or player doesn't talk to him anyway.

Wayne Bennett has seen the process first-hand.

The rugby league media is being taken over by rights holders and the governing body itself, which will run its own website from next year.

Mainstream media is losing resources, relevance and access while television reporters, retired players and current stars sit around in the rarefied air of TV studio green rooms, where the old paradigm is recreated with the help of healthy appearance fees.

Podcast here

Book here